The culture within the NBA has changed dramatically in recent years. If a superstar player is unhappy with a situation and desires to take his talents elsewhere, he holds all of the leverage within the organization. As a result, more “superteams” may continue to form moving forward, as superstars change locations.
We’ve seen this happen before with Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and LeBron James. Some players leave via free agency, choosing the destination of their choice. Others alert management that they have no interest in returning, forcing the front office to scramble and get as much in return for their star via trade.
By the 2014-15 season, the makeup of the NBA could be vastly different than it is this year. Two seasons from now, plenty of superstars could switch locker rooms via free agency or trade.
I’m just going to get this slide out of the way.
With LeBron James’ imminent free agency on the horizon, there have been rumblings that the league’s best player will make a return to his home state. Despite devastating his former fanbase by taking his talents to South Beach, some believe James will attempt to appease those fans by returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers during the summer of 2014.
Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal explained the team’s plans (or perhaps lack of plans) leading up to the point when they can bring the former No. 1 overall pick back to Cleveland:
With the summer of 2014 quickly approaching, the length of a contract the Cavs will absorb is now limited.
Executives and agents around the league are convinced the Cavaliers won’t do anything to jeopardize their ability to sign a free agent to a max contract during the summer of 2014, when LeBron James can again become a free agent. As fans in Northeast Ohio continue to howl and remain divided about the possibility of his return, more and more people around the league believe there is a strong possibility James will indeed return to Cleveland after next season.
Lloyd writes that the Cavs will do very little to improve the team moving forward because they want to have the cap space available to sign James to a max deal in 2014.
The Cavs’ unwillingness to take on contracts in a trade has become a bit of a moot point of late, though. It was reported recently that Cleveland’s most appealing trade chip, Anderson Varejao, will miss the remainder of the season with a blood clot in his lung, according to Matt Moore of CBS Sports.
Although there are members of the NBA community who seem convinced that James would go back to the Cavs, I simply can’t see that happening.
James already spent seven seasons in Cleveland to start his NBA career. During that time, management was incapable of getting enough talent around James to win championships.
After moving to Miami, James won his first NBA title in his second season with his new team.
Even if James still has loyalty to Cleveland (and I believe we got the answer to this question during "The Decision"), it’s hard to see him leaving the success he’s had with the Heat.
As compelling as winning rings is, that doesn’t even include reasons outside of basketball, which people sometimes fail to take into account. For instance, the projected high temperatures from Monday through Friday in Cleveland this week are 23, 16, 18, 23 and 25 degrees. The projected high temperatures in Miami over that same span are 79, 75, 75, 75 and 79 degrees.
I’m not a rocket scientist, but I know that Miami’s winter weather is more appealing than Cleveland's.
Finally, there’s no guarantee that James will even become a free agent during 2014 free agency. His contract has an early termination option that he can exercise, but James may not even choose to do so.
If I had to put money on it, I’d say that James will stay in Miami. Even so, it doesn’t hurt to humor fans following this storyline.
Possible 2014-15 destinations: Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks
Much like the LeBron James situation, plenty of people in the NBA community are on the fence about Dwight Howard’s future.
Although some Los Angeles Lakers fans are 100 percent convinced that Howard will return to La La Land, there’s more evidence available to think that D12 may explore all of his options.
Even though Howard was traded to the Lakers prior to the season, he admitted that wasn’t his destination of choice. “I did want to go to Brooklyn,” Howard said on ESPN Radio (via Tim Bontemps of the New York Post).
Additionally, according to John Denton of the Orlando Magic’s official web site, Howard is open to changing scenery yet again if it gives him the best chance of winning:
“You only get one shot. People might not ever understand that, but at the end of the day it’s not their life. You can’t let anybody else dictate how they want your life to be,’’ [Howard] said. “I only have one shot to play and do something that I love. Not everybody is blessed and have an opportunity to do what they love.
“So I want to do it the best that I can and I’m going to take everything in I can to get what I can out of the NBA. Which, for me, is winning a championship,’’ he added. "So if I have to play on another team or do whatever I have to do to get one, that’s my goal. This is my passion, so I’ll continue to fight.”
When you consider that the Lakers’ 2012-13 season has been an absolute disaster so far, Howard’s decision to play elsewhere may be made easier than it would if the Lakers were a solid, playoff-bound team.
The Lakers season has been marred by a coaching change, pitiful defense (particularly in transition) and an evident lack of on-court chemistry.
Ultimately, though, the Lakers can offer Howard more money than any other team in free agency. Money talks and so does the exposure provided in Los Angeles. It would certainly be surprising if Howard decided to leave for yet another franchise, but it’s more likely than LBJ heading back to Cleveland in my opinion.
Possible 2014-15 destinations: Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks
Given all of the chatter surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers and Pau Gasol, there’s a good chance the Spaniard won’t even finish this season in a Lakers uniform.
In fact, according to Arash Markazi of ESPN (via Twitter), Gasol hinted as much to sideline reporter Craig Sager:
The fact that Gasol would tell Sager it's "certainly looking like a possibility" that he'll be traded tells you where his mind is at.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) January 22, 2013
Gasol is experiencing the worst statistical season of his career. He’s averaging career lows in points per game (12.6) and field-goal percentage (43.2 percent). He’s spent time sidelined due to knee tendinitis and a concussion, and has had an impossible time fitting in Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system.
Gasol’s $19 million salary this season, which raises to more than $19.2 million next season, may be difficult to move considering his stock is at an all-time low. However, Gasol is still one of the league’s most dynamic talents. There’s a reason why he was the captain of Spain’s Olympic team.
If he doesn’t get moved in the coming weeks, the chances he stays with the Lakers after his contract expires in 2014 don’t seem very high.
Possible 2014-15 destinations: Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves
Josh Smith is in the final year of a five-year, $58 million contract. This month, Smith was suspended by the Hawks for “conduct detrimental to the team,” according to The Associated Press (via ESPN).
By putting two and two together, Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today Sports wrote an article pondering Smith’s future in Atlanta. If Smith doesn’t intend on re-signing with the Hawks moving forward, general manager Danny Ferry has an interesting decision to make.
Smith’s suspension has coincided with the Hawks’ recent struggles. Despite a hot 20-10 start to the season, Atlanta is 4-8 in the month of January. They’ve lost ground in the Eastern Conference playoff rankings, falling down to a sixth seed.
Atlanta can’t afford to lose a talent as dynamic as Smith for nothing in free agency. If there’s any inkling that he won’t stay, the Hawks would be smart to deal him for value.
Possible 2014 destinations: Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta Hawks
Paul Pierce is a Boston Celtics legend and a future Hall of Famer. Logically speaking, following the contract extension given to Kevin Garnett last summer, the Celts will chase a championship with the Pierce/Garnett/Rajon Rondo core until that window closes.
Pierce’s contract finishes with a non-guaranteed $15.3 million for the 2013-14 season. Either the Celtics will decide to pay that and ride out next season with Pierce on board, or they can decide to waive Pierce and pay a fraction of that $15.3 million.
Considering that Pierce is one of the most respected Celtics to ever put on a uniform (saying a lot for such a storied franchise), it would be bizarre to see him go to another team. Nevertheless, that’s the reality Pierce may face as he gets older and nears the end of his contract.
Teams desperate to add a solid veteran presence around a young nucleus will be players for Pierce if he’s still playing at a high level by 2014.
Possible 2014-15 destinations: Sacramento Kings (Seattle Supersonics?), Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, retirement
When Zach Randolph is motivated and in shape, he’s one of the best low-post players in the entire NBA. He’s been fantastic for the Memphis Grizzlies when healthy, but rumors have surfaced that along with shopping Rudy Gay, Memphis may also be taking offers for Z-Bo.
Source says that the Memphis Grizzlies may keep Rudy Gay, and instead trade Zach Randolph to the Houston Rockets. Houston loves Randolph.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) January 20, 2013
Memphis may have a legitimate shot at a championship this season with the squad they have, so it's befuddling to see rumors that they are shopping Gay and/or Randolph. If the Grizzlies could somehow get through the loaded Western Conference, their interior size would be a nightmare for the Miami Heat (assuming the Heat make the Finals again).
Regardless of whether or not the Grizzlies choose to trade Randolph before the deadline this season, Randolph has a player option for the 2014-15 season that he may not choose to exercise.
Assuming that Randolph is still playing at a high level after next season, he could choose to opt out to land a bigger deal in free agency (even if that deal comes from Memphis).
I'd be surprised if the Grizzlies traded Randolph moving forward, but the NBA has surprised me before.
Possible 2014-15 destinations: Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings
"My patience is not high."
According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, that's how Kevin Love voiced his frustrations toward the Minnesota Timberwolves organization in July of last year.
During the 2012-13 season so far, the Timberwolves are a borderline playoff team once again, struggling to land the eighth seed in the Western Conference. In addition, Love has broken his hand on two separate occasions, struggling on the court in between those injuries. When Love has actually found the court this season, he's shot a career low 35.2 percent from the field.
Love is under contract through the 2014-15 season, but following that, he only has a player option that he can opt out of in favor of free agency.
Given how many times Love has vented his frustrations with the T-Wolves franchise, it's hard to imagine him remaining with the team past the 2014-15 season. If that proves to be the case, Minnesota will be forced to trade Love for value in return. They simply can't afford to lose arguably the best power forward in the game for nothing in return.
It will take a king's ransom to pry Love away from Minnesota, but plenty of teams in the NBA would love to have his services.
Possible 2014-15 destinations: Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets